(photo by Karen Gavis)
Legal Draft Beer Company welcomed a full house Monday night as citizens filed in to hear former UT Arlington President James Spaniolo present “Regionalism: Does it Really Float Everybody’s Boat.”
The topic was part of Arlington on Tap, a free, Arlington-themed lecture series.
“You can get a lot more accomplished when you’re working together on an issue than you can when you’re just going it alone,” said Spaniolo, who currently directs the North Texas Commission. “If we could get Dallas, Fort Worth, and Arlington to work together we’d be a lot farther down the road.”
Spaniolo, who noted that his words were not those of his current or former employer, recognized Arlington’s individual identity as well as its strong pride in its university and its sports teams. ”There’s also a pride of not being pretentious that has always appealed to me,” he said.
Yet despite Arlington’s uniqueness, Spaniolo said that when surrounding cities pull together the region can become a bigger magnet for corporations such as Amazon which is currently seeking regional applications for its second headquarters. Spaniolo said the move opens the door for local conversations about a unified proposal.
“Amazon, they march to their own drummer,” he said. “I just hope we’re in the parade.”
Spaniolo said when companies like Toyota and Amazon come into an area everybody benefits, but when an issue does not provide a positive outlook things can get testy. Spaniolo mentioned situations in the past such as Dallas’ police and firefighter pension troubles and Detroit’s bankruptcy as things that could hurt an entire region. He also pointed out the regional ability to pull together as was seen around Houston following hurricane Harvey.
”We are capable of coming together in times of crisis and times of great need,” he said.
The fact that North Texas has lots of space and that large companies such as AT&T, Toyota, and DR Horton are already in the area is a plus, Spaniolo said before fielding questions from the crowd.
“I understand we should be united in our efforts,” asked attorney Dan Blumberg, “but what should we be united in our efforts toward?”
Spaniolo replied that transportation, water, air, environment, and education are all key when aiming for a good quality of life “as well as affordable housing as we become more affluent.” He also said there is plenty of room in North Texas “to protect and promote our own interests” while also promoting the greater good.
However, Arlington Voice publisher Zack Maxwell was skeptical about blurring the lines between cities and counties and voiced his concern about what he called “unelected bureaucracies.”
“At what point does regionalism involve the average citizen and not just what some might consider the elite in our society,” he asked.
Spaniolo responded that there is accountability as well as opportunity for debate and discussion, but “ultimately, decisions get made by those who represent us.”
Still, Maxwell said afterward that he dislikes the prospect of other counties deciding “what goes on in Arlington.”
Obviously, we need to work together,” said Arlington Nights founder David Conant. "But I want my car ... and I want my identity here in Arlington.”
Arlington on Tap cofounder OK Carter said while regionalism is a tough topic, he believes that Spaniolo could provide the leadership needed for the area and that “we could accomplish great things by working together.”